Aging and recent widow Harriet Beamer insists she’s getting along fine with her dog Humphrey in Philadelphia … until she falls for the fourth time, injuring her ankle, and causing her son and daughter-in-law to cry foul. Insisting Harriet move in with them in California, they make a bet that her ankle is broken, and she foolishly promises to move if they’re right. Four x-rays later, Harriet’s ankle—and her heart—are broken. She packs up, ships her huge salt and pepper collection to California, and prepares to move away from the only life she knows. The only catch? She’s doing it her way. Just wait till her daughter-in-law hears Harriet will travel cross country only by public transportation and alternate means. What follows is a hilarious, heartwarming journey by train, metro bus, ferry, and motorcycle. Along the way, Harriet discovers that although her family thinks it’s time for her to be put out to pasture—God has a different plan.
Magnin (Bright's Pond series) continues her quirky ways with the titular character, a 72-year-old widow who takes the long way across the country when she reluctantly agrees to move in with her son and daughter-in-law in California. Her road trip is filled with bed-and-breakfasts, a GPS named Amelia, cancan dancers, petty criminals, dozens of salt-and-pepper shakers (she collects them), and of course increasing self-knowledge. Magnin breathes gentle life into the classic road trip structure. Harriet's sheltered na vet is occasionally beyond the bounds of belief, but Magnin has an energetic and confident sense of narrative rhythm and Harriet is funny and indelibly characterized. An extensive subplot involves Harriet's writer son, Henry, and his lawyer wife Prudence, whose family plans are at a standstill after two miscarriages. Henry is more fully rendered than Prudence, who remains somewhat opaque. Not aimed at fans of dystopia and dysfunction, it's a great read for fans of feisty-old-lady stories; spiritual elements are well blended in, like the right amount of seasoning from one of Harriet's shakers. Agency: MacGregor Literary.